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Diversity & Sustainability in the Retail Fashion Industry


“Linking Diversity & Inclusion in the Retail Fashion Industry to Sustainability”

by Angela S. Dixon

Economic growth and sustainability of an organization can be fueled by a diverse and inclusive work culture. Studies have consistently shown that companies outperform their industry peers when they embrace a diverse and inclusive organizational culture. Recently, I set out to take a closer look at an industry near and dear to my consumer heart – the retail fashion industry – to explore ways that industry leaders foster diversity and inclusion (D&I). It should be noted that this is not a scientific exercise, but rather an opportunity to observe and assess the following:

  • Is a diversity and inclusion strategy articulated as an integral part of the business, and how is this presented in their online presence?

  • Is this information assessable, easy to find, and navigate?

  • Are goals clearly defined? How is the organization held accountable for achieving those goals?

  • Is there a chief diversity officer (CDO) role? If so, what is the reporting relationship within the organization? Is there access to inform and influence corporate leadership?

  • If there appears to be no CDO, is there a clearly designated “champion” for the D&I program?

  • How diverse is corporate leadership?

Several findings emerged, including the following:

  • There is no one consistent way to articulate an organization’s commitment to #DiversityandInclusion. For most, visually presenting a diverse customer base, such as race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, etc., is a given when exploring a retailer’s website. Finding detailed information on the corporate strategy, executive leadership, and diversity-based goals, however, can be more challenging.

  • The best examples of D&I that I could find were companies that articulated a strategy based on key segments of the business along with specific, measurable, time-bound, relevant goals. Accountability to the CDO, who has direct access to the C-suite and, in some cases, was a part of the executive leadership team, demonstrates a commitment to D&I as a business strategy, far beyond marketing, compliance, and policy directives.

  • Some organizations place the diversity and inclusion role within the Human Resources function, more closely associated with talent attraction and retention.

  • In several other companies, the D&I programs were expressed as “important” and “underdevelopment,” with no clear description or timeframe as to what would be forthcoming. In other cases, companies expressed a strong commitment to a more diverse and inclusive workforce in language but did not link such to actionable goals.

  • Very few specified a supplier diversity strategy. This is a potential missed opportunity.

It is important to reiterate that this is not a scientific study, but rather an observation of some of the efforts by major retailers to advance a D&I strategy. Some companies, like Macy’s, as an example, have a strategy that encompasses five key areas: colleagues, customers, suppliers, community, and marketing. Additionally, Macy’s established a #DiversityandInclusionCouncil which is co-chaired by the CEO and #CDO. #Nordstrom presented a “Diversity Matters” campaign which, during February’s Black History Month, highlighted several executive women of color within their organization. There are myriad ways for organizations to demonstrate their commitment.

Another interesting perspective emerged from this snapshot of the retail fashion industry. A number of retailers have positioned D&I within their “Sustainability” strategy, rather than part of Human Resources. As with diversity, it is important to define #sustainability for this purpose. According to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, “[S]ustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Investopedia takes this a step further and defines the three pillars of sustainability: “1. Economic (profits), 2. Environment (planet), and 3. Social (people).” The #fashionretailindustry has a stake in all three aspects of sustainability.

Diversity and Inclusion efforts continue to evolve within organizations as they recognize the relevance of D&I to economic growth and viability. Ensuring that the most is achieved through well-developed, innovative strategic approaches can help retailers, both large and small, navigate this ever-changing industry and global economy.

Angela Dixon is a Diversity & Inclusion consultant with Jordan Alliance Group and can be reached at


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